I recently tried to sell a iPhone 4 on eBay. It was an extra I bought at the Apple Store after quite the experience waiting in line. I figured that if the iPhone 4 was sold out somewhere, or if someone in a country where it wasn't on sale yet wanted it, somebody would buy it from me.
I listed it on eBay at the optimistic starting bid of $999.99. With a Buy It Now option of $1200.
Obviously, this wasn't going to sell. I didn't know this, however. I haven't sold anything on eBay before, so I had no idea how much people expect to bid on these things. But after a week, I still hadn't had any nibbles. My auction ended yesterday, and I figured I'd return the iPhone 4 to the store.
Then I got an email: Your eBay item sold!
I was excited. Even more so when I saw the person had paid the Buy It Now price: $1200!!! I started having visions of taking the girlfriend on a surprise vacation, or at least buying cable for my new apartment.
Then I got a little suspicious. The buyer sent me a message saying he could only pay via PayPal. Fine, I thought, so why didn't he just click the Pay Now button on eBay, which gives the PayPal option? His English was poor, as well: "Bought the phone and paypal is the only way i will make payment. is ok for you???" He didn't have any eBay history on his member profile, and his address, in Canada, was missing his street number.
And $1200? When no one bid at $999.99? Too good to be true. I even called my friend's parents, who often sold things on eBay, confused over the gentleman's odd request to only pay via PayPal. They warned me not to ship anything until PayPal confirmed the money was in my account.
So I sent an invoice via eBay and tacked on a note telling him he could click the PayPal option. Once he paid via Paypal, who cared how shady it was? I would have the money in my account.
Then I got this email this morning:
Awesome, I've been paid with PayPal! So now I can go to the post office and send... hey, wait a minute!
Now, call me a small-minded bigot if you like, but the country of Nigeria isn't associated in my mind with safety and honest-dealing. Type in "What is Nigeria known for?" into Google and the first result that pops up is "SCAM."
With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I typed in "Nigerian ebay scam" into Google. This is what I found:
"The dead giveaway here was the very obvious fake name of the bidder and the suspicious way the email is drafted. The language structure and grammar is very bad and poor. However at that time I didn't notice this as I was really excited about the sale.Sure enough, when I clicked "show details" on Gmail, the email I received from PayPal was not from a PayPal email address. It was from "firstname.lastname@example.org."
The Nigerians are really experienced in this. The subsequent email was created to actually look like it came from Paypal! I was really surprised after I found out that it was all a scam when my dropshipper notified me. On close inspection I realised the sender email was not from Paypal (email@example.com) but firstname.lastname@example.org (which can be faked quite easily) after clicking 'show details' in Gmail.
So if you are an Ebay seller, especially if you're still learning the ins and outs of Ebay, beware of this tactic! Check carefully the real sender of the email of the bidder."
The truth is, "Dire Ken" almost got me. If the address had been Canada, and not Nigeria, I may have been none the wiser. He was also a little too generous, offering up $100 dollars for shipping even though I had offered shipping for free. And his messages to me were unnecessary. If I had simply received the spoof PayPal email, and not his slightly-off notes requesting "PayPal only" and the odd insistence that "it's been deducted from my account including extra for postage," I may not have double-checked.
I can't find any way to report this kind of illegal activity on eBay. They warn against allowing payments outside of the eBay system, but there's no easily findable way to report this particular type of scam to eBay.
Let this be a warning to you eBay newbies out there. Always check that the PayPal email you receive is actually from PayPal.com. And if a guy from Nigeria buys your item, be very, very suspicious.